Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Willie Mays – The Say Hey Kid

Posted on July 10, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Willie Mays

We recognize as the July Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month a player who is always on the short-list of greatest players in Major League Baseball history. Willie Mays is one of three players (along with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial) to earn 24 All-Star appearances.

After earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1951, Mays missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season while serving in the military.

When he returned in 1954, Mays began a streak of 19 straight years earning an All-Star spot as he won the first of his two National League MVP Awards.

Mays was the rare player who could win games with his bat, glove and legs.

During his career, Mays led the league in runs, hits, triples, home runs, stolen bases, batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage.  He was the first player in baseball history to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in the same season.

In the field, Mays brought a style to the outfield that had never previously been seen. His catch of a drive by Vic Wertz in the first game of the 1954 World Series is still considered the greatest catch in baseball history and credited by many as being the biggest reason the New York Giants went on to sweep the Cleveland Indians in four games.

He won a Gold Glove as one of the top defensive outfielders in the league in each of the first 12 years of the award.

Along with Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, Mays was part of the famous New York centerfield trio known as “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Mays initially struggled in his new city as he had become synonymous with New York.

Eventually, Mays won over the fans in San Francisco and spent 14 full seasons with the Giants. After having played in two World Series in his first three seasons, Mays played in one World Series with the Giants as they lost to the New York Yankees in 1962.

Mays claimed his second MVP Award in 1965 when he hit 52 home runs and drove home 112 runs.

His skills eventually started to erode as 1965 was the last of 12 straight seasons in which Mays scored 100 or more runs. The 1966 campaign was the last of 11 seasons in which he hit more than 30 homers and final of 10 years in which he drove in 100 or more runs. His .317 batting average that season also marked the final year in which he hit over .300.

After helping the Giants reach the playoffs in 1971, Mays was traded back to New York midway through the 1972 season and spent his final year and a half in the league as a member of the Mets.

Though he was no longer the great “Say Hey Kid”, Mays did conclude his career with an appearance in the 1973 World Series for the Mets.

At the time of his retirement, Mays ranked third in baseball history with 660 home runs. He also scored 2,062 runs, stole 338 bases, drove home 1,903 runs and had a career batting average of .302.

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